Tuesday 20 December 2011

Public swimming pool in Tuscany

If your accommodations in Tuscany don't offer a pool, you might well feel like cooling off and/or relaxing at a public swimming pool in Tuscany. The municipal pools in Greve in Chianti are highly recommended. The two outdoor pools, one for small children, are spotlessly clean and sun umbrellas and comfortable plastic chairs are available. The two indoor pools are reserved for swimming classes, clubs etc. The Greve pools are located a 15 minute walk (flat, not hilly!) from the main piazza of Greve. That's one hour by bus or 45 minutes by car from Florence.

Greve in Chianti public swimming pool in Tuscany
Greve in Chianti public swimming pool in Tuscany

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Wednesday 7 December 2011

The village of Calcata near Rome, Italy

Calcata Italy
The village of Calcata near Rome, Italy

The fortified village of Calcata, Italy is not in Tuscany, but rather it is near Rome. Nevertheless, we mention it here because of our interest in castles and fortified villages. Calata in on the outshirts of the Valle del Treja Natural Park which is an easy 40 km drive from Rome. The village is a large castle that stands high up on a tuffa volcanic plug. The fortifications, especially the gate passage, are extremely well-preserved and the entire village is worth exploring. The population consists largely of "fricchettoni" meaning roughly "freaks", artists, bohemians, aging hippies and New Age types, with their associated galleries and cafes. These latter might or might not appear to you, but Calcata is definitely worth a visit if you are in the region of Lake Bracciano.

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Tuscan events and festivals

Visitors planning their trips to Tuscany will probably be keen to attend any Tuscan festivals and events coinciding with their vacation dates and location. Some of these festivals are spectacularly good and even the smallest of village festas are fun and provide an insight into life in Tuscany.

Tuscany events and festivals
Flag throwing at a Tuscan festival

Here's a link to an example of a local mediaeval festival known as “A cena da Messer Boccaccio”, a mediaeval dinner taking place in Certaldo. And I have reported on the great mediaeval costume festival at Monteriggioni here.

The major festivals are described at: Annual Festivals and Events in Tuscany.

As comprehensive a list as is possible of events in Tuscany (there are literarily thousands of festivals every year in Tuscany) is give at: Events in Tuscany.

Another way to enter into Tuscan life a bit is to buy your supplies at the nearest weekly open air market - or at least go there and have a look around. Markets are very informative about life in the community you're visiting! A list of the days of the week when these open air markets are held is give at: Market Days in Tuscany.

For those of you interested in Renaissance art, perhaps read my review of the 2013 Palazzo Strozzi exhibition, "The Springtime of the Renaissance".

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

Tuscany tourist information - tourist information

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Sunday 4 December 2011

Brolio Castle

Castello di Brolio in Chianti or Brolio Castle, as it is known in English, is one of the most famous inhabited castles in Chianti, indeed, in all of Tuscany. This is quite strange in a sense because although a manor house or castle has been documented on the site since before the year 1000, the current structure is in large part a mid 19th century product of the Gothic Revival. Even the gardens are 19th century, despite one part being in 16th century italianate style. Brolio Castle has been the property of the Ricasoli family more or less continuously since 1141. The most famous member of this family was Baron Ricasoli, an important politician in the early days of the newly united Italy and also an agronomist who systematised a grape blend that remained the definition of Chianti wine for more than 150 years.

Brolio Castle depicted on the map of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa, 1595
Brolio Castle depicted on the map of the Capitani di Parte Guelfa, 1595
The gardens and ramparts of the Castello di Brolio can be visited for free and the views are definitely spectacular. The chapel and museum of Brolio Castle require a ticket, and there is also a wine tour. Whether either of these tours are worth the money draws mixed reviews.


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Thursday 1 December 2011

Tuscan culinary specialities

There's an excellent page devoted to Tuscan culinary specialities on the Greve in Chianti web site that's worth a look. It provides a brief introduction to the following topics with links to more comprehensive information.

Tuscan olive oil - some good advice on making sure that your olive oil is the real thing. There seems to be a certain amount of low grade oil, some of it not originating from olives, on the market labelled as extra virgin olive oil.

Tuscan bread - unsalted and misunderstood.

Schiacciata con l'uva - a delicious sweet version of focacci, a kind of flatbread, prepared during the grape harvest in September.

Porcini mushrooms - delicious in endless dishes as well as fried in olive oil with some nipitella.

Tuscan truffles - when fresh and the real thing, they add a wonderful aroma to pasta or poultry (e.g. under the skin of a roasted pheasant).

Tuscan saffron - like truffles, very expensibe but needed in only small quantities to provide a unique flavour. Buy from the grower to be sure you're getting unadulterated saffron.

Bistecca alla fiorentina - Florentine grilled steak - learn how to cook it and how to order it in a Tuscan restaurant.

Tuscan prosciutto crudo - cured ham slice off the bone and accompanied by Tuscan bread.

Tuscan pecorino - ewes' milk cheese.

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Saturday 5 November 2011

The Cinque Terre of Liguria, Italy

The Cinque Terre are a group of five fishing villages located along an eleven mile stretch of steep coastline between Levanto and La Spezia, in Liguria, Italy. They are accessible by boat and train, the train passing mostly through tunnels excavated from the cliffs, and by mule trails which are now extremely popular as tourist hiking paths. The views along the coast and over the villages of the Cinque Terre from these walking paths are truly spectacular. Until twenty years ago, fishing, wine and olive oil were the main source of income to the villagers, but tourism is now extremely important to the local economy, to the extent that during parts of summer the number of tourists visting the Cinque Terre somewhat spoils the ambience. Nevertheless, the area is still well worth a visit and is easily accessible by train from Florence and other parts of Tuscany.

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British Consulate in Florence to close

After being represented diplomatically in Florence for 555 years with few breaks, the UK will close its consulate in Florence at the end of 2011. The official duties of the Florence consulate will be taken over by the Milan office.

British Consulate in Florence, Italy
British Consulate in Florence
This was one of Britain’s oldest international diplomatic seats, tracing its roots back to 1456 when an English legation was based in Florence. The list of consuls begins in 1698 with Sir Lambert Blackwell, “consul at Leghorn”, as the port city of Livorno was then known, and continues through Sir Horace Mann, who as consul in Florence from 1760 to 1786 turned the consulate into a salon, receiving all Britons of rank who passed through the city. In the meantime, since 2007, the UK Foreign Office has opened consulates in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo; Antananarivo, Madagascar; and Juba, Sudan. I wonder if they really have their priorities right.

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Monday 31 October 2011

Annual Events and Festivals in Tuscany

Italy is famous for the variety and high quality of the annual events and festivals in Tuscany and other regions. These feste fall into two broad, sometimes overlapping, categories: festivals of Christian (and sometimes pagan) origin and seasonal and/or food- and wine-based sagre (fairs). These annual festivals are characterised by a high level of local participation (often cited as contributing to the generally low youth crime rate in Italy outside of the big cities), high quality of costumes, floats and spectacles, and the great atmosphere and food. It is definitely worthwhile to make a note of any festivals taking place in your vicinity when you're visiting Italy - they form an important part of the "Italian experience".

Tuscan events and festivals
Flag throwers at a festival in Tuscany

The festas and festivals of Tuscany website lists and describes the most important and popular events taking place in Tuscany during the course of the year.

Some important festivals of Umbria are listed on the city of Orvieto web site.

And there is a comprehensive list of major and minor annual events in Tuscany with dates but no descriptions on the Tuscany, Italy web site.

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Public Toilets in Florence

A great many tourists visiting Tuscany sooner or later have to ask about public toilets in Florence. In fact, there are many of them and they are on the whole perfectly useable and in some cases remarkably clean and practical. There is a link to a map of public WCs in Florence on the Tuscany Italy website as well as a description of the locations of true public restrooms and the protocol when using the toilets of bars and restaurants where you are not a customer.

Author: Anna Maria Baldini

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Market Days in Tuscany

market days in tuscany
Tuscan fruit and vegetable market

When spending your vacation in the Region of Tuscany, Italy, it's always a good idea to know the dates and locales for your local market days in Tuscany. These are usually weekly markets dominated by fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, cheese and cooked meat (whole roast chickens, roast pork - porchetta) and shoes, clothing, household items and hardware. These Tuscan local markets are normally held in the largest (or only) piazza in the town or village and can be for half a day only. Prices are generally very good especially for items such as household linen, table cloths and shoes. This is where you can come to stock up on provisions if you're renting a self-catering vacation rental in Tuscany. Linen makes good presents for the folks back home and is light and easy to transport without risk of damage.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany & Umbria.

Chianti Travel Guide

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Friday 30 September 2011

Chianti Classico vendemmia 2011 :: Chianti Classico grape harvest 2011

The Chianti Classico vendemmia 2011 - Chianti Classico grape harvest 2011 is in full swing. The whole of the grape-growing period of 2011 has been at good temperatures and with very little rain. However, there was a very hot period during the last week of August (in the 30's) which scorched some of the grapes, making them shrivel. This will mean selection of grapes will be important and production will be a bit less than expected. Otherwise the crop is excellent and we can expect an outstanding 2011 Chianti Classico vintage.

Imported varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet suffered more from the heat than Sangiovese clones which, being indigenous Chianti and Tuscany wine grape varieties, are well-adapted to the heat. This is good news since Sangiovese grapes contribute 90% of the composition of Chianti Classico wine.

Be sure to check our post on shipping wine from Tuscany.

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Sunday 18 September 2011

Weather in Tuscany

Visitors to Tuscany often ask about the weather in Tuscany before they plan their trip. Well, it rained today, lightly, for the first time in months. The weather pattern used to be very stable here in Chianti but it has slowly changed. There's noticeably less persistent snow in February, for example. Nevertheless, a rule of thumb is that the rainy months in Chianti and Tuscany generally are April and October. August is traditionally hot but this year, for example, it was quite mild with cool evenings while we had a boiling week in June and another at the end of August. Don't be put off visiting Tuscany in August just because you've heard it's hot but do note that Florence, in its valley, can boil while life is pleasant in the hill towns of Chianti.

The days become noticeably short by mid-October and it is cold but clear during much of November and December. In the hills it can snow in January and February, usually more often in February, but a fall rarely remains on the ground longer than four days. If you are thinking of renting an agriturismo in Chianti - a farm house vacation rental - don't completely dismiss the idea of coming here in winter. Sightseeing is definitely possible and the museums are much less crowded. In addition, there's a lot to be said for sitting in front of a fire in your cosy farmhouse looking out over the cypress trees and olive groves.

The best website for current weather conditions in Tuscany is: http://www.ilmeteo.it/meteo/provincia-FI

Vacation accommodation in Tuscany

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Saturday 30 July 2011

Tuscany Italy Tourist Information

The expanded Tuscany Italy Tourist Information website puts a number of new and interesting articles online, alongside its excellent list of owner-direct Tuscany vacation rentals. This website is a must for anyone planning a vacation in Tuscany outside of the main art cities.

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Thursday 21 July 2011


The relatively isolated Tuscan hilltop town of Volterra remains a place of inexhaustible enchantment, despite having been "discovered" by a well-known writer of guide books a few years back.

Volterra Tuscany
The main gate of Volterra, Tuscany
Volterra preserves its mediaeval ambience with its 12 C city walls and mediaeval urban layout of narrow streets, palaces, tower houses and churches. The Renaissance had an important influence on Volterra but without changing its mediaeval character. The superb palaces of Minucci Solaini, Incontri-Viti and Inghirami, as well as the imposing Fortezza Medicea and the Convent of San Girolamo, which are all integrated into the mediaeval city, date from the Renaissance. Definitely worth a visit.

More about Volterra.

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Tuesday 21 June 2011

Tuscan village holiday - vacation in a wine village in Tuscany

Tuscan borgo of Tignano
Tuscan borgo of Tignano
Tuscany is dotted with tiny inhabited nuclei known as "borghi" (singular "borgo"). These are villages or, even better, hamlets, and are ideal for a Tuscan village holiday if one or two of the houses are available for rent. These Tuscan villages usually take the form of a large farmhouse or villa, the original manor, with a number of smaller farmhouses clustered around it or stretching along a short road. It is this short road that, strictly speaking, characterises a true "borgo", hence the use of the word "borgo" in the names of suburbs of quite large towns (e.g. Borgo San Lorenzo), reflecting their rural origins. Other hamlets originate from castles or fortified villas and typically lack a road but are clustered around a small piazza or a house built in the remains of the keep. These hamlets are often referred to as "castelli" (singular "castello") - castles. A classic example of a borgo is Castellinuzza, while a typical castello of this kind would be Tignano or Montefioralle. These borghi offer great opportunities for a vacation in a wine village in Tuscany since a great many of them are still active wineries or are the locations of wineries. They are usually very quiet with almost no traffic so that children can safely run free. They are also very frequently high up in the hills, providing spectacular views and cool breezes in summer.

Gaiole in Chianti - main sights

Gaiole in Chianti is a favorite place for lunch during wine tasting visits to the Chianti Classico wineries east of the Chiantigiana road.The town of Gaiole itself is quite attractive, with the Castello di Barbischio visible above it on the forested slopes.

Gaiole in Chianti - main sights
Gaiole in Chianti
The surrounding hills are mainly woods with vineyards and terraced olive groves near the villages. The entire area is dotted with interesting sights including castles, fortifed mediaeval villages, abbeys and tower houses. One of the most famous is the former abbey of Badia a Coltibuono which is now a well-known winery and offers a quite original restaurant. It's possible to take a tour of the Badia that includes its italianate herb garden. The area of Chianti around Gaiole is well-provided with tourist accommodation in the form of agriturismi.

More about Gaiole in Chianti.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Radda in Chianti - things to see

The small town of Radda in Chianti, along with Gaiole and Castellina, is one of the three original members of the Chianti League which dates back to at least 1384. All three towns are worth a brief visit while you explore the castles of Chianti and other things to see in the surrounding territory. Radda in Chianti is surrounded on every side by vineyards and almost every winery has a "degustazione" sign at the gate, making it easy for those of you who wish to organise your own wine tasting in Tuscany.

Radda in Chianti - things to see
Radda in Chianti - fountain

The area is dotted not only with castles, some ruined, some still inhabited, but also by abbeys, Romanesque parish churches and tower houses. There is also plenty of economical accommodation in the area around Radda in Chianti, most of it in the form of agriturismi, meaning accommodation offered on working farms (usually wineries) in the form of farm houses or farm house apartments. These agriturismi are almost univerally beautifully restored and comfortable locations for your vacation in the area. Some of them have swimming pools. There are restaurants within Radda in Chianti and also several out in the nearby countryside.  

More about Radda in Chianti

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Sunday 12 June 2011

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

In Tuscany, Italy, bistecca alla fiorentina rules as the most popular and delicious beef dish. Bistecca alla fiorentina, as its name implies, is a grilled beefsteak in the Florentine style. Outside of Tuscany, it's commonly referred to simply as a fiorentina. It is, in fact, a porterhouse or T-bone steak, traditionally from calves of the chianina ox but these days very likely Spanish beef, grilled at high heat over charcoal so that it has a brown, almost charred exterior while being quite rare in the middle. (Don't ask for a well-done bistecca alla fiorentina - even if the chef agrees to cook it that way it will be tough.) It should be brought to your table on a very hot, iron serving tray or a block of wood and then cut off the bone and into strips in front of you. It should be salted after being grilled and might be flavoured with rosemary and/or some olive oil. The traditional accompaniment is a bowl of fagioli, Tuscan white beans.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina as cooked in Tuscany
Bistecca alla Fiorentina as cooked in Tuscany

It's actually not that easy to find a good bistecca alla fiorentina, sometimes because not enough care has been taken in selecting the meat, but more often because it hasn't been grilled exactly as it should be. Ask local people for a recommendation on where to go to try this great Tuscan treat.

More about bistecca alla fiorentina.

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Porcini mushrooms

Although porcini mushrooms grow throughout the northern hemisphere and are very popular in France (cèpe), Germany and Switzerland (Steinpilz), perhaps it is in Italy, with its myriad local cuisines, that you have the chance to try the widest variety of porcini dishes. And in fact if you stay at an agriturismo in the Chianti countryside, you can easily go out and pick your own porcini and cook them up at your accommodation. In Tuscany, porcini mushrooms are served alongside fried meat dishes (vitella, for example) and as the flavouring constituent of pasta sauces and ragouts. Porcini risotto is also commonly on the menu even though risotto is a speciality of Milan and its environs. While on holiday in Tuscany, on no account miss trying one or more dishes containing porcini.

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Friday 13 May 2011

Traffic fines in Italy - Limited Traffic Zones

Every year, a certain number of tourists to Italy get a nasty surprise when a fine notification arrives at their home address months after they return from their vacation in Italy. These Italian traffic fines invariably result from driving in to the ZTL limited traffic zones of historic cities in Italy. BEFORE your holiday in Italy, take the trouble to inform yourself about these limited traffic zones, and especially how to recongise the warning signs at their entries. There are procedures to follow if for some reason you have a recognised reason for entering. Read more about traffic violations in Italy.

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Friday 4 March 2011

San Donato in Poggio

San Donato in Poggio is one of those little Tuscan hilltop towns that has never attracted the attention it deserves. The town itself retains some of its mediaeval walls, including two gates, and much of its original layout.

San Donato in Poggio
Il Torrino watch tower at San Donato in Poggio

The town was strategically important and a number of treaties between Florence and Sienna were signed here. Nowadays, San Donato in Poggio is a tranquil village surrounded by the beautiful Chianti countryside and is well worth a visit if you're in the area. Accommodation within San Donato in Poggio is provided by the magnificent Palazzo Malaspina and nearby is the extremely photogenic Badia a Passignano.

More about San Donato in Poggio.

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Saturday 5 February 2011

Sights of the Valdorcia or Val d'Orcia of Tuscany, Italy

The Val d'Orcia of southern Tuscany is famous for its sweeping landscapes. For many visitors, this aspect of the Valdorcia makes the area more attractive even than the more intimate and more densely populated hillscapes of Chianti. However, it's important not to let the photogenic landscape of the Val d'Orcia distract from the beautiful towns of the area. Among these are San Quirico d'Orcia, Bagno Vignoni and Pienza.

Val d'Ocia, Tuscany, Italy
Classic view of the Val d'Orcia at sunset

In addition, there two not-to-be missed ecclesiastical structures - Sant'Antimo and Abbadia San Salvatore - plus innumerable castles, among them Castiglione d'Orcia. Another sight well worth a visit is Villa La Foce, a villa and farm created and made famous by Iris Origo and her husband, and still owned by their descendants. Monte Amiata, an extinct volcanic cone, dominates almost any view towards the south. The sights of the Valdorcia or Val d'Orcia of Tuscany, Italy, landscape and towns, are the highlight of many a trip to Tuscany so that we always advise our visitors to have two bases for their vacation in Tuscany, one in Chianti and the other in the Valdorcia.

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Tuesday 25 January 2011


The expression "Valtiberina" - meaning the valley of the river Tiber - usually refers to the Upper Tiber Valley of Tuscany, where it forms the eastern border of Tuscany and meets Emilia Romagna, The Marches and Umbria. This area is unjustly neglected by tourists in comparison with most parts of Tuscany, and in fact there are many charming sights in the Valtiberina. Among them are:

  • Anghiari has one of the most spectacular views, in terms of height and distance, in all Italy. As someone who suffers from mild vertigo, I felt distinctly shaky walking down the main street and looking out towards its extension as Via della Battaglia. Anghiari retains much of its walls and is well worth a half-day visit.
  • Sansepolcro, home of Piera della Francesca and still housing some of his most spectacular paintings, lies, in contrast to Anghiari, on the flat bottom of the Valtiberina. Inside its quadrilateral of protective walls it maintains a mediaeval appearance, with splendid Renaissance and Baroque additions. The Palio della Balestra is a great Tuscan festival held in Sansepolcro every year on the second Sunday of September.
  • Monterchi is not to be missed by anyone interested in the art of Piero della Francesca whose mother was born here. A small museum in Monterchi houses the famous fresco of the Madonna del Parto, an extraordinary portrait by Piero della Francesca of a pregnant Virgin Mary.

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Friday 21 January 2011

Italian grape varietals

The fascinating story of Italian grape varietals hinges, of course, on wine production rather than edible grapes.

Italian grape varietals

Among the most famous Italian grape varietals are Sangiovese for the red wines of Tuscany and Nebbiolo for Barolo, where it competes with Barbera as the most popular red wine grape in Piedmont. But there are a host of lesser grape varieties that produce excellent wines. There are probably over 3000 red grape varieties indigenous to Italy with 50 to 60 of these being used in the production of popular wines. In major wine producing areas of Italy, there are now specialised nurseries devoted to salvaging neglected varietals - sometimes discovered as a single remaining vine - and testing them for wine-making value, usually foreseen as contributing to blends. Tuscany and especially Sicily are prominent in this field. Some widely used grape varietals are also going out of fashion, mainly because, although easy to grow and prolific producers, the resulting wines are of indifferent quality. An example is Trebbiano, used to make white wine in Tuscany (and previously a mandatory constituent of Chianti red wines) and in Sicily.

For descriptive lists of Italian wine grape varietals we recommend:
Don't forget to visit Elena Spolaor's new blog about Umbria Italy!

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Wine tasting tours in Tuscany

How to organise wine tasting tours in Tuscany is often at the top of the list for any wine lover visiting Tuscany, particularly the Chianti area and the wine-producing areas around Montalcino and Montepulciano. A do-it-yourself tour is perfectly practical but be sure to work out your route and ascertain opening times if you are planning to visit specific wineries. A completely "spontaneous" diy wine tasting tour is also possible. This means taking your chances and dropping in at any vineyard displaying a 'degustazione' sign on the roadside.

wine tasting tour in Tuscany, Italy
Learning about the vines on your wine tasting tour in Tuscany

The alternative is to take a guided wine tasting tour. These cost quite a bit of money but a good one means you get an excellent commentary both during the actual wine tours and also in transit between wineries, access to castles and similar wineries not always open to the general public, and the certainty that the winery will be open when you arrive with someone there to tell you about the grapes, wines and wine-making. In other words, with a guided tour, your guide does the organisational work for you and drives you after you've "tasted" quite a bit of wine. This last point should not be forgotten.

degustazione in Tuscany
Degustazione! Wine tasting in a Tuscan villa

More about Tuscany wine tours and wine tasting.

Don't forget to read our review of a great organised Tuscan wine tour.

Tuscany Toscana
Don't forget to visit my Tuscany
Travel Guide!

Up-to-date news on what to see and where to stay in Chianti and all of Tuscany.

Tuscany Travel Guide

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